This is the first post in what may become a series of “Things I’m Into Right Now” posts. Writing posts like this is a way to capture and share my thoughts, mood, and interests at a point in time. Maybe I’ll look back on a post like this years from now and think, “wow, I can’t believe I was into that back then”.
One of the biggest challenges for me of life as a digital nomad has been staying fit. Not that I was in perfect shape before I started traveling… My fitness journey, from the weight room to the calisthenics park, started over twenty years ago.
I should be a huge monster by now. I was so young when I started lifting that I had to get special permission to use the free weight area at the gym. Soon after that, I started formally studying weight training at school. Our gym was basic, and we goofed around a lot, but at least we got a chance to lift during school hours. Since then, I’ve trained one-on-one with great personal trainers and physical therapists in the United States and in Eastern Europe. Along the way, I’ve learned a ton about strength and fitness. I’ve been taught to use a seemingly endless variety of tools (Cybex machines, dumbbells, squat racks, free weights, elastic bands, kettlebells, etc.) and methodologies (high weight/low reps, low weight/high reps, 5×5, “get the negative!”, “leave one in the tank”, “go to failure!”, “grease the groove”, etc) for getting stronger. Ask five people for advice about lifting weights, and you’ll get at least six opinions…
The truth is that, no matter what equipment or methodology you choose, you have to stick with a routine long enough to see results.
So sadly, I am not a huge monster yet. Some people love going to the gym. I don’t. I do enjoy the satisfaction that comes after finishing a tough workout, especially when followed by a steam/sauna and a cold plunge (or even just a hot shower). But I always face a ton of internal resistance when it comes time to go to the gym again. There have been times when I’ve gotten into a pretty good routine, going to the gym a few times per week, but then I would miss a few days because of travel or something else that came up. A few missed days can easily become a few missed weeks, and soon enough the routine is broken. This would even happen before, when I lived in one place.
Staying Fit as a Digital Nomad
Moving around constantly, as I have for the past few years, makes it even harder to stick to a proper workout routine. By the time you would find a gym, join it, and figure out how the lockers work, I’m already in a new city. It’s not hard to understand why weight training — involving actual weights — isn’t compatible with my minimalist, nomadic lifestyle. So, when I started traveling full-time, I brought an over-the-door pull-up bar. I would take it apart, pack it in my suitcase, unpack it and put it back together each time I moved to a new place (sometimes as often as every few days). That actually worked pretty well for sticking to a routine, since I always had the pull-up bar with me, but the pull-ups, chin-ups, and push-ups I was doing with the bar aren’t exactly a complete workout. It was also a huge pain in the ass and took up lots of space in my suitcase.
One time, while working out in my apartment in Kiev (which had very tall ceilings and doors), I learned that not all door frames are made the same way. Back home, most door frames have a flat, squared off area on the top (where people hide keys). Apparently my door frame in Kiev was beveled in such a way that it was wide enough to hold the pull up bar, but narrow enough so that when I got to the top of the motion, the bar slipped off the door frame and I crashed hard on to the floor below. After a while I couldn’t be bothered assembling, disassembling, packing, and unpacking the bar anymore. So, I left it at home.
After abandoning my pull-up bar, I discovered and got a TRX. Like the pull-up bar, it goes over a door, but unlike the pull-up bar, it requires no assembly, and it folds down to about the size of pair of shoes. Far more practical for travel than a pull-up bar. I also bought a travel yoga mat that has a nice grippy surface, but next to no padding, so it’s thin and folds down pretty small. I traveled with the yoga mat and TRX for all of 2016, which worked out fairly well, for a while. I still carry the yoga mat with me everywhere, and I love the TRX, but the convenience of being able to work out at home eventually became the penance of having one more thing to do at home. I already work from home. Eating healthy often means eating at home. So, working out at home started to feel like a punishment. One more reason I’m stuck in here instead of exploring out there (I know it’s possible to use the TRX on a tree, and I’ve thought about it, but never actually done that).
My Current Routine
Starting in late 2016, I finally found what does work for me. Strength training outdoors — doing things like pull-ups, chin-ups, rows, dips, and squats — using only my bodyweight for resistance (aka calisthenics). Most of these exercises can be done anywhere, but I love to find purpose-built calisthenics parks, that have lots of bars and other equipment designed just for doing bodyweight exercises. I can’t say for sure what makes the difference, perhaps it’s the combination of being outside, breathing in the city that I’m visiting, and not needing to bring any equipment with me, but I have found it much easier to stick to a good routine. These days I enjoy working out three days per week and I’m happy to have finally found a fitness routine that works for me, even on the road.
My Favorite Calisthenics Parks / Outdoor Gyms:
Barcelona (my favorite calisthenics park — on the beach in Barceloneta):
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (the city where I wrote this post):